Monday, September 29, 2008

For Better or Worse

I was bored at home. It got to the point where I decided I would rather have a bad time somewhere that was challenging/interesting/scary than keep being bored. Bad > bored.

The trip to Southeast Asia set the bar pretty high - there weren't any bad times. Even when the Loatian houses were collapsing around me, that was a surreal sort of fun. England, by contrast, has so far been a pretty even mix of good and bad. There've been days when I wonder if I've made a colossal mistake.

When things seem a bit tough, how do you combat it? I went online and found that one of my favourite singers is performing in a couple of weeks. I suspect that neither of my readers will know who I'm talking about when I say that I've got tickets to see Aimee Mann in concert in London. That's the kind of pretty awesome opportunity that would be unlikely in NZ. If she plays "Ghost World" or "Lost in Space", I may squeal.

In the meantime, I'm off to London tomorrow for a BBC TV taping. Should be good. Or bad. But not boring. More soon.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Struggles (and Muggles)

Chapter 3:

Did any of you notice the slight change in the last post? I went from only doing free tourist things and a week without lunches to doing the expensive Francis Bacon and Westminster Abbey tours with the extra audio guides. That's right - I got a job.

(No, Mum, I wasn't skipping lunch to save money. It was... like... Ramadan or something.)

Somehow, the world's worst job interview turned into an immediate job offer. The last thing I want to do is Dooce myself (it's a real word, Wikipedia it), so I won't give many details. But as you may have worked out from my "circus" allusion, it is in Cambridge. It's pretty different to what I've done in the past, and unquestionably challenging. Once again, despite my best efforts, I ended up with a security tag photo that makes me look like a hobgoblin.

I started work on Monday, but I don't have a place to live. I've been in 4 different B&Bs in the last week. And when you have to walk everywhere and work for a full day, there isn't a lot of time left to flat hunt or find alternative accomodation. Between roaming the city, flat hunting, and walking to work, I think I've walked maybe 70 km in the last week, probably more.

My timing is really bad: Students are beginning to flock back to the city, and are searching for flats. The only thing in my favour is that students seem to have the same reputation in the UK as they do in NZ, so most landlords automatically refuse them. But it's still a real struggle. I was sent a link to a minor accomodation website for Cambridge, and some of the ads from the last couple of days already show 500 views. I looked at one place that was cheap and seemed really good, but they rejected me. Of course, I would've too. I'm on my last razor blade and it's bent. I had hoped that the vertical gouges down my face would appear slimming, but I guess not.

So, all up, I'm really struggling: There just aren't enough hours in the day to deal with all the colliding aspects of my life. My job takes my full concentration, and I'm conscious that my co-workers need me to get up to pace quickly. I've had corner-store sandwiches for dinner the last 5 nights. Ludicrously, the only laundrette in town is closed outside business hours, and I'll be wearing the very last of my clean clothes tomorrow. And I had to dig pretty deep into my pack to find them (I hope no one at work asks why I'm dressed as Catwoman). The B&Bs are draining my cash really fast. I can't see myself getting to London this weekend for the Open Home tour that I've been anticipating for months.

Okay, for some serenity, here are some pics of Cambridge. Definitely seems a nice place:

Cricket in the park

Cambridge houses

Reflection in the Cam River

Rowing on the river

Punts on the river

Taking a punt

And last but not least, the source of the Muggle reference in the title. If you don't know why this is awesome, I have some homework reading for you:

Platform 9-3/4 at Kings Cross

Incidentally, did you know that JK picked that particular spot because it is (falsely) claimed to be the burial site of Boudica? I've had a lot of people here asking why you would possibly leave NZ for the UK. That amazing sense of history sums it up for me. If you dig down through the soil in central London, you can actually see the burnt layer from when Boudica's army destroyed the city in the first century AD. In the British Museum, I looked at a Roman helmet from the first century AD that was dug out of the Thames. It occured to me that I could be staring at a helmet that Boudica herself once also looked at. That idea makes my head spin.

Catch you again when I get a spare moment.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Standard London photos

Thanks for the emails, everyone. It's good to hear from home. I may be jumping the gun, but I'm picturing a Christchurch with newborn lambs frolicking, daffodils blooming, and Hagley Park buried in cherry blossom. London is kind of the same, only with rain, and beggars instead of lambs. And they don't so much "frolic" as "hunch".

The last few days, I've been doing some touristy stuff. Here are the pictures to prove it:

The tower containing Big Ben

London Eye/London cab

Man feeding squirrels in St James Park

A statue on the Queen Victoria Monument

Westminster Abbey

One of the few fragments of the old city wall, at Aldgate (by the Tower)

Buckingham Palace and Victoria Monument from St James Park

Okay, here's a building that's pretty cool - 30 St Mary's Ax (but known locally as "the Gherkin"). I think it's the council offices. It was built in 2002-2003 and is all eco-friendly. Normally the public can't get inside, but in 2 weeks there will be a weekend where great architecture and stately houses all across London are open to the public to raise money for charity, and I am SO going to do a tour then:

30 St Mary's Ax

You might know this one - I saw it on the news before I left home. I thought it was at the Tait Modern, but I guess it's at the Tait Britain. That's where I spent the afternoon today. I went to the Francis Bacon exhibition, which was expensive but really comprehensive. Anyway, there are marathon runners sprinting along the corridors at the gallery. It's fun, and it gave some people a heck of a fright when they didn't know it was happening:

Marathon runners at the Tait Britain

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Now mu seum...

Today I decided to do something touristy, so I went to the British Museum. Why yes, now that you mention it, it is free.

Frankly, I think the collection should be classed as one of the wonders of the world. Whether you attribute it to an altruistic attempt to preserve the world's greatest relics, or you consider the British nothing shy of the most audacious thieves in history really doesn't matter once you get there. The fact is, it is a mind-blowing museum.

If it comprised of only the Elgin marbles, it would be an amazing display. If it was just the wing full of ancient Egyptian artifacts, it would impress. But to roam through them, and then the Babylonian, Greek, African, Asian, North American, European, and (my favourite) the Assyrian collection becomes overwhelming. There aren't enough hours in a day to see everything. I never even worked out if there's a Pacific wing. I expect there must be, tucked away somwhere, but I couldn't find it on any maps.

Anyway, cudos to the British for making it free to visit. I'm not sure that would happen anywhere else in the world. I'm not even sure there's another collection in the world to rival this one.

In other news, I have decided to leave my current temporary accomodation at the end of the week. It's not actually all that bad, but the little things are adding up. I haven't had asthma for maybe 15 years, but each time I lie down on the pillow here I lose my breath within seconds. It must be packed with dustmites or asbestos or something. There's something skittering around in my room at night. I was woken up this morning by something gnawing on the bed. Keira Knightley had already gone home, so I guess it was a mouse. The shower is a spray nozzle that is at the end of a long hose from the low taps. The shower head has a pin on it that fits into a small hole in the wall. The problem is that the shower has high pressure. This morning I lathered up in the shower, only for the shower head to launch itself, cobra-like, through the shower curtain onto my pile of clothes for the day. I guess they were extra clean after a jet hosing. My point is, you can only use the expression "Oh for f#!*s sake!" so many times before the novelty wears off.

Wow, this entry started off with abundant opulence and culture and rapidly decended to living in squalor and vermin. It's like a modern day "David Copperfield".

Monday, September 8, 2008

"Circus" is right

I wish I wasn't the clown...

I'll tell the full story some time when I've cheered up a bit. Right now, I've got a chocolate pudding cup with my name on it.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

What wat?

Another quick quiz. Is this pagoda in:
A) Luang Prabang
B) Chiang Mai
C) Battersea Park, London, baby, yeah!

Side view from Peace Pagoda: Barge/Thames/Chelsea

You've probably noticed that the blog peters out a bit after south East Asia. This is a pretty long post to make up for it.

I spent a little over 2 weeks sleeping on the living room floor of my friend D. He got married on Saturday, so I moved out on Friday. He, his partner T, and their flatmates were extremely tolerant of my imposition. The list of people that I owe big favours to is pretty long now.

I've just moved to my own room in the north of the city. D's flat is in Clapham (south west), which is apparently the baby capital of Britain. I have no difficulty believing that, as Clapham's high street was crawling with swollen-bellied women berating toddlers.

In NZ, I'm essentially a tee-totaller. I've been here just over 2 weeks and in 2 drinking sessions I've had 5 sambucas, 2 tequilas, 3 champagnes, and some revolting thing with gin. Mum/Dad: If you could send over my spare liver, that would be great.

Before I came here, a lot of people commented that the weather in Britain can be a little depressing. I don't think so, and here's why: I don't believe that the 2 hemispheres have reversed seasons. The weather here right now is about the same as the weather back home. As long as this is the middle of Winter in England, it's pretty much what I'm used to. Seriously, this can't be late summer, because it's an absolute pig!

We had a running joke at my previous job that everywhere I visited was struck by calamity. Laos had its flooding, Thailand is now a no-go zone for tourists because of political rioting, and England is being swept by floods. My bad.

I've been focusing on the job hunt, so I haven't really done much touristy stuff yet. Shortly after arriving, I went to the plaster casts room at the Victoria and Albert Museum. In Victorian times, they would go to great features around the world, and make gigantic plaster copies of them. They would them paint them to look like the originals. If you ignore the (admittedly major) fact that it's fake, the 30m copy of Trajan's Column that they have in the V&A is now superior, because polution in Rome has robbed the original of a lot a detail.

In one case, the plaque beside the cast points out that the exhibit was modified from its original appearance by one of the plaster artists who thought that it should look better. That is such a Victorian British thing to do. I love that. They're not just showing copies of wonders from around the world; in some cases they're showing how they think it should've been done.

Riding the tube is really expensive (and Boris has just announced that he's raising the fares). A weekly pass just for the inner zones (1&2) is 25 pounds. Clapham isn't too far from the City, and if you have limited funds and a lot of free time, you can walk there in maybe 2 hours. I walked right past Ricky Gervais on Westminster Bridge. Everyone else in the throng was Italian or French, so nobody else seemed to notice him. In my first week, the list of celebrities I'd seen (Ricky) was better than D's after 6 years.

I roamed around Chelsea and Kensington. Chelsea is nice - I could live there (checks wallet) for about 1 hour. I walked at random, and stumbled onto the former home of Oscar Wilde at 34 Tite Street. That was pleasing, because sooner or later I would've specifically looked for it. Just nearby, I saw the restaurant "Ramsay". Someone was emptying the bins out the back, but I had a look and it wasn't Gordon.

I went down near Portsmouth for an afternoon. It seemed nice, but a bit windy. As soon as the train moved out of London and those green fields appeared, I found myself breathing a sigh of relief. I don't think I'm a big city person.

To summarise the situation, things are average right now. It's bit of an emotional rollercoaster. I haven't found a job, I haven't seen many sights, and I can't afford to live like this without working for particularly long. Even when you try to live abstemiously, London leeches the money out of you. Friday I had a chicken roll for tea, Saturday I downgraded to a ham sandwich. It's marginally cheaper.

But I have a second job interview this week, so I'm not completely becalmed. I learnt from the dumb things I said at the first one, so we'll see how this one goes. It's another day out of the City, if nothing else, and a place that I've wanted to visit. As I understand it, they have a circus.

Squirrel on Clapham Common